Asia Crisis

OSCE Georgia plan fudges South Ossetia status

* Revised peace monitoring plan skirts territorial dispute

* OSCE trying to beat June 30 withdrawal deadline

* Russia has demanded separate OSCE mission for S.Ossetia

VIENNA, May 11 (Reuters) - Europe's biggest security and rights watchdog is trying to salvage its peace monitoring mission in Georgia with a revised proposal that sidesteps the country's dispute with Russia over separatist South Ossetia.

The proposal, obtained by Reuters, aims to overcome Russian resistance to the mission and will be considered on Wednesday by a 56-nation committee of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

The clock is ticking. June 30 is the deadline for the OSCE to pull out all its monitors after Russia blocked agreement to extend its mission in Georgia beyond last Dec. 31 and gave it six months to withdraw.

A consensus is needed to forward the proposal to the OSCE's ministerial council for approval, with OSCE diplomats hoping that written-in ambiguity on South Ossetia's status would resolve a prolonged stalemate.

Georgia's move to wrest back control of its rebel, pro-Moscow province of South Ossetia last August was crushed by Russian forces in a five-day war. Both countries are OSCE members.

Since the conflict, Russia has recognised South Ossetia and another breakaway Georgian region, Abkhazia, as independent states. Georgia and its Western allies insist on the ex-Soviet republic's territorial integrity.

The revised monitoring plan, submitted by OSCE chairman Greece, omits mention of Georgia or South Ossetia. It says only that 22 monitors would be based in Karaleti, which is in Georgian state-controlled territory, and eight in Tskhinvali, the separatists' main town.


Monitors would have unimpeded contact and movement across the now sealed ceasefire line and their deployment would be governed by the OSCE's conflict prevention centre in Vienna.

The revised draft said a restored OSCE mandate would run initially until the end of 2009, with the option of an extension.

A marked-up Russian version of Greece's original draft, circulated last month and also obtained by Reuters, stipulated an autonomous OSCE mission in South Ossetia had to be "agreed with relevant national authorities", meaning the separatists.

A senior European diplomat involved in negotiations said the new version melded Georgian and Russian suggestions and resorted to "constructive ambiguity" about South Ossetia's future.

"We think the proposal is extremely well balanced now, adopting a 'status-neutral' formula for South Ossetia, and it's a question of political will to accept it," he told Reuters.

"This may be the make-or-break proposal," said another diplomat, who like others was not authorised to speak on the record due to political sensitivities and ongoing talks.

Since August, South Ossetian rebels have denied the OSCE access to their side of the truce line. South Ossetia and Abkhazia have struck deals giving Russia direct control over their de facto borders with Georgia.

The next round of talks between Russia and Georgia on South Ossetia, shepherded by the OSCE, European Union and United Nations, is to be held in Geneva on May 18-19.

Editing by Mark Trevelyan